Higgs Boson: A Breakdown

(The above video explains the function of the Higgs Boson)

By Blair Simmons, NYU ’16

The 2013 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Peter Higgs and François Englert for the theorization of the Higgs Boson particle. So…what exactly is it (for us laymen)?

Ernest Rutherford discovered protons, neutrons and electrons (the most basic elements of the atom, which is the most basic element of matter) when he boldly shot radioactive materials through a sheet of gold in 1907. It has turned out that over the years, what makes up matter is a tad more complicated. There are tons of other particles in existence, even one that humorously goes by the name of ‘charmed’. So what is next? Twelve particles have now been discovered, are there more or is that it? There are atomic behaviors that still need to be accounted for. One such behavior is the existence of mass. Why does a bowling ball have more mass then a balloon?

The Higgs Boson particle is what gives other seemingly massless elementary particles their mass. On the surface, the way in which all the different particles “appear” is symmetrical. There is nothing that apparently distinguishes different masses. This symmetry is broken down when particles interact differently with the Higgs Boson. Some have more and less interaction, which determines the mass of a particle.

John Ellis (his video is linked here) explains the function of the Higgs Boson as a field of snow that covers the entire universe. Particles without mass are like skiers who skim across the snow without any resistance. A particle with mass is like a person with snowshoes, they walk slowly across the field of snow with effort. A particle with extremely high mass is a person with only boots on. They sink and have extreme difficulty moving about. When the Higgs Boson is put this way, it can be both a comical visual and more easily understood.

NYU’s very own Professor Nemethy, who was on CERN’s team that discovered the Higgs, will present a digestible presentation on what went into one of the biggest scientific discoveries of the century. This dialogue takes place on March 26 at 6:00 pm at NYU Florence, Villa La Pietra.

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